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MCDONALD'S LIQUID TONES FLOAT SPIRITS AT BPO

Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra

Pops concert featuring singer Audra McDonald.

Friday and tonight at 8 at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Normally, I'm not the kind of gal who cries at pops concerts. But I got weepy Friday night when Broadway singer Audra McDonald, appearing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, sang our own Harold Arlen's "A Sleeping Bee."

McDonald sang it in the old-fashioned dialect, something few singers do anymore.

"I walks with my feet off the ground," she sang, "when my own true love I has found." She stood still in the center of the stage, statuesque in a long red gown, smiling under her cloud of hair. Her arms were at her sides. All her passion was in her voice.

And what a voice she has! McDonald sings like a cat stretching in a sunbeam. She sings with an unhurried grace, a laziness almost, rounding every note with bluesy languor. Finishing "A Sleeping Bee," she swam up to a shimmering high note and then took a graceful, slow swan dive down. Who could not help but get choked up?

We're used to the Philharmonic presenting wonderful tributes to the great American songbook. None, though, has been more exquisite than what we're hearing this weekend.

McDonald dishes out a generous, sensuous set. There's no printed program; she just saunters from one song to another. The orchestral arrangements are lush and gorgeous. One song even has the orchestra members joining in the chorus. But I don't want to give all the surprises away.

Her song selection is original, and the evening never gets dull. The rocking, gospel-ish "Ain't It the Truth" was a highlight, with such lines as "When you're laying horizontal in a telephone booth" and "Cleopatra and Delilah had it way over Ruth." An old song called "I Double Dare You" packed tremendous pizazz. McDonald said she heard it in the background of Woody Allen's "Radio Days."

Sondheim's "There Won't Be Trumpets" also displayed McDonald's sheer vocal power. She can belt like Judy Garland -- who, she confessed with a giggle, is one of her idols. She paid tribute to her with "The Man That Got Away."

McDonald's diction is marvelous. As long as she's not being drowned out by the BPO's mighty trombones -- which happens to the best now and then -- you can catch every subtlety of the lyrics.

Associate Conductor Ron Spigelman led the BPO in a short first set that was a tribute to the ladies. We heard Rossini's "The Italian Girl in Algiers," Stephen Foster's "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," Leroy Anderson's rambunctious waltz "The Belle of the Ball," and a medley from Gershwin's "Girl Crazy."

It all repeats tonight at 8.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

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